Thoughts on Judaism

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Islam and Judaism

Upon hearing the latest invectives from various Jews about the horrors of Islam, I come to appreciate how similar we all really are.  The laws, the traditions, the customs and mores are practically the same in all respects.  Even the methods of applying law are the same, a written body, a legislative addition from sages, and traditions and commentaries to round them off.

However, there are differences, aren't there?  Very stark differences indeed?  For instance:

1) Doesn't Islam dictate one law for Muslims and relegate infidels to death and supplicants for mercy to second class citizenship?

2) Didn't Muhamed, a grown man, marry a very young child, thus making him a pedophile?

3) Don't they beat and mistreat women who do not comply with their husbands' wishes or bring dishonor to the family?

4) Don't they pursue jihad, holy war, as a matter of religious pursuit?

5) Didn't the prophet commit genocide, sworn to wipe out whole nations?

You may surprised to learn that all of these are also found in Judaism.

1) This is the same rules mentioned in parshas shoftim and in Hilchos Melachim in the Rambam.  Non-Jews who agree to abide by Noachide laws get second class citizenship, a tax and they become servants.  Those who maintain idol worship get death.  Right in the chumash (Deut 20:11).

2) According to Rashi, Yitzchak was 37 when he married Rivka.  Rivka was 3.  This he proves from the order of verses.  Others say she was 13.  Loads better?  Anyway, the interpretation that she was 3 is sustained by the fact they waited for her to have children for 20 years, instead of 10.  She needed 10 to reach puberty.

3) The Rambam states in the laws of marriage (Ishut) that a man should chastise his wife and family when they do sins.  However, he should not beat his wife more than necessary.

4) In Judaism, Parshat Shoftim and Ki Tetzeh, and again in Rambam Melachim, a king can fight a milchemet reshut, with imperial expansion its only purpose.  King David's wars were often in this category, and any war to expand the borders and settlement by Jews of the Land of Israel is a good thing in the Tanach and in halacha.

5) Jews are commanded to wipe out the Kana'anim and the Amalekim to the last man in the Torah.


So what it all comes down to is modern leadership.  The sources are strikingly similar.  The leaders of today, who guide today's actions bear the guilt of success or failure of their philosophies. Haredim take note.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Leadership in Crisis

New week of hachlatas:

Some of the bachurim and bachurot today are reviving a ba'al tshuva movement, even among the FFB's, a new rededication to try and reel in the youth as they bleed away from religious Judaism at alarming rates.  Not a bad idea, one would think.  After all, the original "ba'al tshuva" movement of our times, that of the Besht, was all FFB and spawned a new type of observance that slowed the same bleeding over 300 years ago.  After all, this group of young people is the source for the Jewish leadership of the next generation, and one hopes they will inject a new spirit of leadership into the current lobotomized style of "follow me" drones that "lead" Judaism today.  They have the mistakes of their direct predecessors to learn from.

Some of the proposals center around becoming more insular and cutting off exposure to the outside.  No Internet, only "Jewish books", "Jewish music", "Jewish videos", and "Jewish news" media for starts.  What makes a book or music "Jewish", I have not a clue.  However, the books that my children had to read, as children, are not changing much. (and the bleeding continued with the status quo) But those are not the kids who are leaving.  What are we offering the 12-16 crowd? The 16-24 crowd?  The Jewish books for teens are plotless, bland, and worst, completely predictable.  Jewish music all sounds the same.   Entertainment is a huge part of influence and it thrives on variety.  Even Torah learning does not stray from the path of the core curriculum into the more interesting realms of the rarely broadcast.  "Jewish videos" are also very sparse, even though the medium has been around for a century.  We offer no competition for the books, music, adn movies that are circulating in the world at large.  What are we giving our kids to compete with what they see around them, to inspire them to want to stay?  Is the whole game plan to simply hide all of that from them?  Most babies grow out of peekaboo when they realize that when Mommy covers her face, she really IS still there!

One sentence summation for any budding leaders out there.  Does anyone, anywhere have a plan to keep our kids in the fold that does not involve BORING THEM INTO ETERNAL GROGGINESS???  

Newsflash: Even the hypnotized wake up eventually.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Who killed Jesus?

According to the New Testament, in such form as it exists today, in all four versions of the story, there is no doubt that the Sadducees arranged to arrest, try and execute him, and the fact is beyond dispute.  The Sadducees even manipulated the Romans to perform the execution.  Who were the Sadducees and what was their relationship to "the Jews" of the John version, or the Jews of today?  The answers may surprise you.

The Sadducees were a cult of priestly lineage which controlled the Temple service in that time.  The Torah requires such lineage for service, so obviously the tribe demanded a great deal of power.  Ultimately, they rebelled against the Jewish nation and were considered a heretical sect, often called minim in the Talmud.  They rejected all court decisions and maintained their own courts, bound by none of the laws to which the Sanhedrin, the true ruling body, was bound.  Thus the trial of Jesus could be held on Pesach night (in Mat, Mark, Luke) or Pesach Eve (John), both illegal for such judgment in a Jewish court, held in the house of the High Priest, also an illegal place as the sanhedrin met in the room of Hewn Stone, and they judged him to death for "blaspheme", based on statements that he would destroy the Temple and that he was the Messiah, neither of which is blaspheme in a Jewish court (but rejection of the principle of the coming of the messiah is a known Sadducee position).  Obviously, the different versions of the stories have very different circumstances, but it is clear in all that the Sadducees, "the chief priests and scribes" were the holding the court, and they had the alliance and sway with the Romans to get political cooperation for the execution.

These Sadducees were bitter enemies of the Jewish sages, the Jewish people, and dangerously heretical in their stances

So even if one were to hold that the entire New Testament were true and historically accurate as written, there is no reason to hold the Jews responsible for the killing of Jesus.  Sorry Mr. Gibson, but you are wrong.  Blaming "the Jews" is no more accurate than blaming "the Americans" for the terrorist acts of the Weather underground or the Klan.  Certainly, in our times, we can finally accept the facts and even the most devoted fundamentalist Christians can rest easy in the fact that neither the Jews of today nor their ideological forebears and philosophical roots had anything to do with killing Jesus.

One of the underlying principles of Passover is that "in every generation, they have stood over us to destroy us" and this sad mistake has been part of that for the past two millenia in many parts of the world.  Reach out and correct this grievous error, which is based on ignorance of history. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Weirdness in the daf

There is weirdness, in the Shakespearean sense, Shabbos at the end of daf 81b-82a, the daf shiur yesterday.  It is one of the stories brought on the infamous Chulin 105 group of agadatas.  According to the story, here in more detail, two Rabanim are in a boat and a witch stops the boat using a spell.  The Rabanim free the boat using the counter-spell. The witch laments that she is powerless since these are Rabanim are scrupulous in three matters that protect them.  They do not wipe themselves with clay vessels (ouch), they do not kill lice in the garments while wearing them, and they do not eat vegetables that are bundled.

Again I ask the same questions.  Are they protected by the practices or the counter-spell?  Do you need both?  How would following these practices help us if we do not know the spell?  If Rabanim were not allowed to learn goyishe things, how did they learn the spell?  What does this teach us about reward and punishment. that as long as you have your magic spells and practices, you are protected and do not need zchus of mitzvos?  There is probably a political parable in this story but I cannot speculate what it might be.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Not again

OMG not again.  Remember when Congress was honorable?  (Me neither.)  I can't take this.  It is becoming untenable and embarrassing to associated with fundamentalists.  Move over Maxine Waters.  You are the dumbest any more.

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/10/10/congressman-draws-fire-for-calling-evolution-big-bang-lies-from-the-pit-of-hell/comment-page-22/

Friday, October 05, 2012

Big Bird Crashing?

The press has been gathering all the monsters from the block to protest the Republican plan that calls for the cancellation of federal funding to PBS, which is distributed from borrowed money.  Big Bird has been an iconic television character for over 40 years, and could easily be popular for 40 more.  The Republicans miss another golden opportunity to articulate the obvious.

Big Bird does not need the federal government.  His favorability, likability, popularity with youth all make him far more likely to be kept on the Survivor island than Obama or Romney.  But that is just the point!  Big Bird makes millions on merchandising, lunchboxes, t-shirts, halloween costumes, slippers, toys, you name it, they sell it with his image on it.  Likely, he, Elmo and Cookie Monster are the most popular television characters in the history of the medium.  SO WHY DO THEY NEED SUBSIDIES???!!!!  Aren't the Dems in favor of cutting entitlements for rich people?  Who is richer than these three uber-stars?  And their monster friends cannot be far behind!  43 years at the top of the charts and they need government funding?  Sorry you bunch of furry 1%-ers!  The chuckwagon is over.  I can no longer support your lifestyles with my taxes or credit.  That is the message that we need to hear.  Is anybody ever home at the RNC?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

On Kaparot

http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/article.php?p=139250


srael: Kaporos Under Fire Earlier than Usual

(Tuesday, September 4th, 2012)
This year’s anti-kaporos campaign in Israel appears to have begun earlier than usual, well before Rosh Hashanah. There are Rabbis who feel that the minhag should not be done with a chicken, citing shechitah and other concerns, and among those is Rabbi Avi Zarki, the Rav of N. Tel Aviv, known in Israel as the “Rabbi of the Celebrities”, referring to the elite wealthy northern Tel Aviv population. He feels that the minhag with chickens is צער בעלי חיים and therefore, it should be avoided.
Kikar Shabbat interviewed the rabbi, who is quoted as saying that “today, the minhag is mamosh avoda zara”. He adds that he basis his opinion on rulings of gedolei yisrael, citing the Rashba, Ramban, and the Beis Yosef, who wrote מה שנהגו ליקח תרנגול לזכר ותרנגולת לנקבה יש בזה משום דרכי האמורי
Rav Zarki quotes the Mechaber, as well as the others in support of his opinion. “People believe they can commit aveiros during the year and on erev Yom Kippur take a chicken and swing it around over their heads and they are done. This is nonsense”.
“In accordance with Halacha, it is preferable to give money to fulfill the mitzvah. There is a Halachic problem with the shechitah due to the pressure, the time element, and the lack of time to properly inspect the knife. Perhaps a damaged knife is used for the shechitah. In addition, many of the chickens die before the shechitah.
“There is also the בצער בעלי חיים issue, and for this there is no mechila. The birds are pushed and shoved into the cages and they are too crowded. They are literally stuffed in, often without any food or water”.
He concludes that based on his information; there has been a steady decline in the minhag over recent years.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Chad Gadya tune

Most Jews are familiar with the music for chad gadya, a song sung at the end of the Passover seder.  After having seen the classic movie Moby Dick, I now wonder if the tune was of very recent origin.  The scene depicts 1841.  The song is a pub song, sung by the whalers about a courtesan in Amsterdam.  The words they sing are:

In Amsterdam, there lived a maid
Mark well what I do say
In Amsterdam, there lived a maid
who was the mistress of her trade
I'll go no more a-roving with you fair maid

and OMG, this is from about 7 minutes into the iconic film.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuOGkY2dNOg

That tune sounds awfully familiar and I did not hang around pubs much in 1841.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fundamentalist Science Cringes

Is it just me?  No, it definitely is not.  Every time I hear a religious person talk about science, I grit my teeth and hope for the best.  Sometimes, I sigh in relief at the end.  Many times, I am not so lucky.

The latest was a brilliant statement by HR Akin proposing that women could block pregnancy during a rape. This is based on a "theory" that has since been thoroughly discredited.  However, since it supports the idea that abortions should not be allowed in rape cases, fundamentalists, even sensible ones like Mike Huckabee, will give it credibility.  No matter how you feel about the question of abortion in the case of rape, it is independent of the fact that a rape victim cannot control whether she gets pregnant.  Justifying your unpopular position with nonsensical "science" makes it both unpopular and embarrassing.

Then, there was the Israeli bestseller, "Hamehapech", which set out to prove that the Torah knew the deepest secrets of modern science millennia ago.  Again, it is largely debunked nonsense, devoid of science.

Of course, there are spirited defenses of spontaneous generation, disproofs of the theory of evolution, proofs of geocentric universe models based on relativity, proofs based on cryptic quantum mechanics, extrapolated to the nth degree, ark-eology (the profession of finding Noah's Ark), and many others all driven by ideological facts that are not facts at all, but merely dogmatic pronouncements.  It is flat out embarrassing to think that I am frequently equated with these people, and therefore, with their "ideas".  It unfairly erodes my credibility.  Who elected these people to speak for us on science?

Of course, the deep left has its own sacred cow science issues, positive feedbacks in global warming, new age magic, mermaids (to support an agenda of stopping navy operations) and history revisions to support their various extreme ideas.  But at least, I am not associated with them automatically based on my appearance.

So, if you are fundamentalist who believes that the Bible, the sages, the Zohar or your favorite rabbi are the sources of amazing scientific facts, think about whether you would believe in those facts if they did not support your underlying agenda.  Facts are evil little mothers that don't care if your cultural sensibilities are right or wrong.  Be honest.  You did not derive your values based on facts.  You are inventing facts to support your values.  Before you state that fact in public, have a little rachmones on the rest of us.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Oy not again

AP reports that the "blurry glasses" story has gone international.  That's right!  The brainchild of the loony tunes in Meah Shearim, glasses that are intentionally blurry, have made the wire.

Let's walk down memory lane.  So far, the press has picked up true stories, unembellished:

1) Rabbis warding off swine flu by flying around Jerusalem in an plane, screaming into a phone, and blowing shofars.  That and a public vaccination program, seem to have done the trick.  Stephen Colbert lampooned it mercilessly.  There was a further controversy on even using the term "swine" flu.
2) There was a controversy when Haredim photo-chopped Hillary Clinton out of a press photo, declaring to the world that it is forbidden according to Jewish law to look at a woman in a photo.  (I must have dozed off during that siman of Shulchan Aruch.)
3) The disaster, mess, and animal rights concerns caused by myriads of people waving chickens over their heads every year provides fodder for our enemies to attack shechita internationally.
4) Neturei Karta going to Iran to participate in a Holocaust denier conference.
5) A little girl getting spat upon by grown men and called vile names for the crime of walking home from school dressed as an Orthodox Jewish girl should dress.
6) Open violence to enforce gender separation on public buses in Israel, "modesty patrols" a la Iranian Mullah, and Haredi shakedowns of businesses in Jerusalem completely undermine our ability to display to the world that Israel should rule the city alone.

In short, except in the case of the NKs, the complete pusillanimous reaction of Jewish "leadership", whether Israeli political leadership, Agudah and OU, YU, religious batei din of all stripes has become intolerable.  Hey guys!  Some of us need a modicum of credibility to survive this, and your silence on these things is blasting like a boom box.    Once and for all, you have made yourselves irrelevant and are completely unfit to claim to lead the Orthodox world. Stop throwing rock concert style parties at Giant Stadium and face the task at hand.  Lead or step down!  Declare in no uncertain terms that this type of behavior is NOT JEWISH, NOT PART OF OUR PHILOSOPHY, and that the "Rabbis" that propagate it are HERETICAL!  Stop buckling under to celebrity nonagenarians and excommunicate them!

This, of course, assumes that Agudah, chasidic groups and the like actually do not agree with the Haredim.  Maybe it is time to cut it once and for all.  Maybe, Haredism needs to fully separate from Orthodox Judaism and become its own religion.  They have already declared that the Orthodox are not Jewish in their eyes, not trusting their marriage / divorce, conversions, kashrut and smicha.  They do not believe in paying for or defending the Jewish state because it is not Jewish in their eyes.  In short, they have already declared themselves a separate nation and religion.  WHY HAVEN'T WE?

Friday, June 01, 2012

Citibank Sages

The brochure for this awesome event related over 50 pages of information on the dangers of the Internet.  Most disturbing were the stories of people who were innocent users, who just had email or news services, or had to use it for work purposes, and inevitably, they spiraled into the abyss of Internet addiction, until they lost their jobs, their families, their homes, and they are now living on the street in a cardboard box.

Some of these sages, chachamim b'aynaihem, even state emphatically that one should rather die than bring the Internet into their homes or use a cell phone.  There were some better, more modern speakers, of course, who had ventured a peek into the current century, and they moderated this view slightly to vigorous discouragement of the Internet, except where it is required for employment.  Of course, others disagreed and said that people should get different employment that does not require one to endanger one's soul, especially considering the wide choices provided by the tremendous education that they give to every student.

I, too, would like to relate stories about the Internet.  Itamar was a young man who sat on a train every day for 3 hours, commuting to yeshiva to help students learn gemora.  The situation did not allow him to carry his entire shas, though he required 4 hours of review of the shas (several mesichtas) and mefarshim every day.  Even so, he incorporated Rambam, comparisons of Rashi in Gemora and Chumash, and other sefarim into his shiurim.  However, he decided that he could not carry all of these books with him on the crowded train.  Then the yetzer hara got to him, and he said, why don't I just get a smartphone and then I can call up all of these sefarim instantly, even if I do not yet know which ones I will need.  He got on the Internet and prepared his lessons.

Rafael was a middle aged man who wanted to study daf yomi, but he traveled much of the time, taking disabled children to doctor's appointments.  Without his rabbi's permission, Rafael purchased a laptop and started accessing e-daf.com.  Being a simple baal habas, he sometimes needed help in the form of translation or even a magid.  He found that both were on the site and he sat, read and listened as he waited for his next run.

Mendel was a Lubavitcher who had a secret.  He liked to learn Chitas and Rambam daily, but did not have a way to carry sefarim with him to work.  Nor did he want to open sefarim at his desk, even though he had much down time at his job, spent waiting for phones to ring or waiting for a meeting to begin.  As he stared at the wall in front of him, he thought, maybe I will just take a peak at the long Rambam today.  It started innocently enough.  He got onto chabad.org and navigated to the Rambam and read the first halacha.  The second halacha was a continuation of the inyan of the first.  Before he realized it, he had read six halachas.  Fortunately, the phone rang at that moment, saving his neshama from gehinom.

Shocking?  Of course it is!  But if we are to understand the greatness of the leaders of our generation, if we are to see with our simple eyes what they see through daas Toreh, then we must not shield ourselves from the truth.  These are not simple knee jerk reactions from people without any knowledge of the subject.  These are sagacious words of those who have appointed themselves, through great mesiras nefesh, to lead the Jewish people in our generation.  These stories could have been prevented.  Our rabbis, chachimim mufla'im, have tried to warn us. But we must do our part.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Rashi on Becoming Frei

The Baraitha states: He “went out” of Moses’ court guilty. He had come to pitch his tent within the camp of the tribe of Dan. So he said to him, “What right do you have to be here?” he said, “I am of the descendants of Dan”. They said to him, “each man ... according to ... his father’s household". He entered Moses’ court, and came out guilty. Then, he arose and blasphemed. — [Vayikra Rabbah 32:3]

According to Rashi, this was the son of the Egyptian that Moshe killed.   Rashis says in Shemot that "Moses looked this way and that and he saw that there was no man" means that he looked into the man's future and saw no one descending from him of value.  Yet, here we have the son he bore to Shlomit bat Divri while raping her according to Midrash there.  In the Rashi in Vayikra, Rashi calls her a prostitute, in that she greeted every man (Shlomit, from the greeting Shalom and Divri from the fact that she spoke to every man).

So this man converted to Judaism, and he had the potential to be someone special, though Moshe saw through prophecy that he would fail and Moshe had a part in it himself.  But what position was he put in?  His mother was from Dan and his father was Egyptian.  Through no fault of his own, he was an outcast, due to the circumstance of his birth, which neither his mother nor he had chosen.  He wanted to join the Israelite camp, but they stood on yichus and his mother's low status.  Instead of finding reasons to m'karev him, they found reasons to ostracize him.  Had he left Dan, no tribe would take him, grounding themselves in the same argument.  Where was he supposed to go?


This is not to say that the Danite or Moshe was wrong.  They were absolutely correct about halacha.  However, they missed the point about kiruv and they caused a man to commit blasphemy through it.  When someone commits this sin, all around must tear their clothes in mourning, similar to a death or a sefer Torah being destroyed.  It is a sadness on everyone, not just the one who commits the sin.  


What lesson must we take?  Many Jewish youngsters find themselves in the position where they do not belong.  Orthodox Judaism presents a face to them and expects them to conform, saying "look how many tribes there are. You can choose."  But if all of those tribes do not allow him to stay, if each leader looks at him and says "he has issues, not my problem," then we send them to the court with nothing left to do, and he has nothing left to do but curse us and leave.  Even Shlomit and her son from a forced relationship with a captor deserve better leadership.  Our own children certainly do.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

More Magic in Chabad

http://www.collive.com/show_news.rtx?id=19622

Sadly toward the abyss.  Energy healing, certified by a proven homeopathic "doctor" no less.  The comments following the post on COL are somewhat more encouraging than the fact that they seriously published this interview.  


Sunday, March 04, 2012

Solution to Haredi Violence

The solution to the Haredi issue on Israel's public buses is easily achieved and could be used on U.S buses and trains in Haredi areas of New York as well. In fact, it could probably be extended to the street to some extent.

The problem is that Haredim have special laws of their own invention that require woman to sit at the back of the bus and men to sit at the front. Also, they are not allowed to look at advertisements that they deem "offensive" or to show a woman in a photograph. If a woman walks before them in dress that they consider "immodest" in their law, even if it conforms to Jewish law, they are required to react violently.

The solution is to outfit two compartments (men's and women's) on the buses and trains with partitions on all four sides that are completely white and without any windows. No advertisements, pictures, extraneous sounds or other sex people would be allowed in the "mehadrin" compartments. The door opens into the compartment, you pay the fee, and the door closes. The compartments are completely shut off from the rest of the bus. The bus can then have regular seating in one compartment and Haredi seating in completely white mini rooms. Then, Rabbis could require their adherents to ride only in these compartments. Perhaps there would be fewer seats, but it is worth waiting for the next bus or few buses to save your Jewish soul and fulfill the mitzvah. No need for violence.

On a NYC train, entire cars could be outfitted in this way. Just put up the white walls and shut out the entire filthy velt.

In fact, even walking along a street, a conscientious Haredi could put on four sided folding white box with suspenders over the shoulders, perhaps complemented by a blindfold and ear-plugs. No, incidental human contact, salacious images or "non-Jewish" music could affect the person. In fact, accommodations for the blind already have already been developed, using canes and dogs to safely traverse the streets with less danger. Of course, some more danger and expense is involved, but how much is a Jewish soul worth? Is it not better to die than to be exposed to the outside world? This option allows one not to be exposed for even one minute, and when he or she has arrived at the destination that is deemed "safe", remove and store the box, blindfold and earplugs until the next time exposure to the outside world is risked. Again, even upon full invasion of Haredi neighborhood by scantily clad models or gay activists, the faithful need not be exposed to such depravity, and no violence is necessary.

There you have a solution that respects both sides' rights and relieves the tension points for violence.

Apparently, some similar solution was in place during the times of the Gemora and the chachamim commented on it. (Mes. Sotah 22b).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stunning Rise of Violence

This (a violent and hate-filled attack by a bachur, supported by his gang brothers, on the rosh yeshiva in 770)

http://www.crownheights.info/index.php?itemid=41845

on the heels of this (a violent attack on the mashpia, trying to quell disruption of seder because of a fantasy)

http://www.crownheights.info/index.php?itemid=41430

leads us to wonder if violence, now leaking into Chabad, is the new expectation in the frum world. Sure us old timer, somewhat BT, somewhat baalabatish types are appalled, but this seems to be the wave of the future for a leaderless, rudderless Orthodox world, broken down into warring gangs.

Of course this horrid incident in New Square

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HK7NRcSICA

ended in a plea deal

http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2012/02/07/guilty-plea-averts-trial-in-rockland-county-hasidic-firebomb-case/

In that case, the Rebbe's house attendant, an 18 year old, attempted to murder a frum Jew and his family in their home, by burning them alive inside. This followed months of vitriolic denunciation by the New Square Rebbe and open demonstrations involving death threats in front of the man's home. In responding to the threats, he had been guarding the home the night of the attack, saving the lives of wife and children, as well as his own. He sustained heavy injuries however. The Rebbe's very half-hearted distancing from the admitted attempted murderer, and the support for said murderer by many in the community leads us to fear for the future of Orthodox Judaism.

(I will not include the incident here where the Chabad Rebbe generically denounced well known parties, possibly leading to a vicious attack on his own sister in law. In that case, ties between the attacker and the Rebbe are not known to exist, and the Rebbe never intimated that violence was called for. He merely said that one who opposes his position in the matter of the library was playing with "armed bombs". That was most likely a poorly chosen parable. I would compare it to Sarah Palin's "targeting" Arizona politicians with rifle sights. There is no evidence at all that she ever had ties to the murderous psycho who attempted to kill Rep. Giffords, nor that she had meant to promote such an act.) (I'll add a difference as well, that there is every reason to believe that the Rebbe's speech did lead to the assault, albeit not the Rebbe's intent. In Palin's case, there is no evidence that the attacker had ever been influenced by Palin's site, or had even ever seen it. Nonetheless, I do not consider the culpability of the Chabad Rebbe in that incident on a par with the New Square Rebbe's culpability in the Rottenberg attack, and needless to say the various celebrities of the Haredi world in the Meah Shearim and Beth Shemesh attacks and the bus attacks.)

In Israel, Haredi hoodlums have revived violent attacks on police, on buses, and on Orthodox Jews, and certainly, needless to say, non-Orthodox Jews. Just search on beit shemesh attacks for many examples. The Rabbis seem to be powerless, mostly because of unwillingness, to stop the wave. Why say "unwillingness"? Because these are men who supposedly are followed even beyond one's own judgment and common sense. To say that the biggest celebrities in the great celebritocracy that is Orthodox Jewish leadership "cannot" stop the violence, while simultaneously saying that they are miracle workers who very words become part of Sinai, who have banned perfectly modest Jewish concerts, well researched and sourced Jewish books, and perfectly kosher Jewish food, is the height of chutzpah. People will build their lives around your ideas of where they may or must live, whether they can get a job, what they may entertain themselves with, how they must educate their children, how they must spend every dime they have, but you cannot tell them not to violently bully other Jews or attempt to murder them???!!!!!!!

The right wing Orthodox have been trying for generations to convince the more moderate Orthodox that the right wing is the true Jewish way and that moderation is acquiescing to the "goyishe velt". My greatest fear is that this is the wave of the future, that my children and grandchildren will be swept up in hate-filled violence, because they went to the "best yeshivas', or listen to the "holiest" rabanim. As it stands, no one can ever lead in the Jewish world. Even the old ineffective leaders are old, sick and dying, and a new generation of leaderless Jews grows up now listening to local gang leader Rabbis who pull some quote out of context for their next nonsensical rant. In the process, they will continue to recruit new young people to their sick mentality until it becomes the norm, and all moderates leave the fold in disgust.

Welcome to the juggernaut Iranization of Judaism, as it leaps toward the 12th century unfettered by any voice of reason. I truly hope that someone in the next generation who has the commitment, the sanity, the energy and the charisma, will put the ship right. Hopefully, by then, there will be some moderate Jews left to lead. Meanwhile, we watch as the ship of Judaism sinks slowly into the sea as the orchestra continues to play.

Should we fight back? I think not. Fighting back begets more fighting, and more fighting works to the advantage of the chaos itself. We should merely withdraw our support from the silliness and be. No more money and no more time spent supporting radical "Jewish" groups, like Haredi yeshivas and chasidic "mosdos" who support the gangsters, hide the criminals and revise history. As the Talmud says, "there is no criminal whose family is not also criminal. How so? Because they protect him." Only our survival stands in the way of the ongoing radicalization.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Hilarious Gemora

Bechoros 51

Hanina the evil one punched (possibly in the ear) a certain person, and he was required to pay a sela, equaling a half zuz (the coin of that time). He offered a very worn zuz (which was acceptable according to halacha but) which he could not circulate (thus costing him nothing) and requiring the victim to actually pay him a 1/2 zuz as change. The court ruled that the man whom he struck did not have to give change for the worn zuz, so Hanina struck him again and gave him the coin.

Question:
Were the courts that inept and powerless to administer justice, or is this an allegory about injustice? I rather suspect the latter, but I wonder what fundamentalists do with this story. The sages were about as sarcastic and funny in expressing themselves as jurists in any century ever.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

New Policy on Fundraising

Anyone who comes to my door or solicits money from me will now be answering the following questions:

1) Do you have any connections to the Sikrikim in Israel, the NK or the Haredim in Beit Shemesh?
2) Do you support the Sikrikim, the Neturei Karta or the Haredim in Beit Shemesh?
3) Do you sympathize with these groups?
4) Do you condone or defend their actions in Beit Shemesh, or any of the militant activity or harassment of the Sikirikim or Haredim of past few weeks?

If I am not satisfied that the person is truthful and that he is adamantly opposed to these groups and activities, he will be shown the door. Further I will encourage everyone that I know to elicit an active (not a passive) rejection of these ideologies before handing a thin dime to anyone posing as a Jew collecting for yeshivas or communities in Israel, and I will advise them if someone is in the neighborhood collecting and he has not passed my muster.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Beit Shemesh - The cure

Momma always used to say, "Stupid is as stupid does." People who are by their nature judgmental (emphasis on mental), controlling and overbearing are always playing offense whereas people who just want to make peace and get along are always on defense. In most games, it is far harder if not impossible to score when there is no offensive threat.

The cure in Beit Shemesh is to tell the truth, and to tell it to the Sikrikim themselves. In every video, there are well meaning people standing around arguing with Sikrikim or grubeh yunger who are there merely to be offensive. You are trying to build respect where respect is not available. Try this. Organize an equal number of people to stand opposite the Sikrikim, with their backs to the street and the girls passing by, and yell back, "Shkatzim! Minim! Return to the Torah!" Fighting chanting with chanting will equalize the playing field at very least, and make it sound to anyone passing like a bunch of people yelling at each other, rather than a bunch of scary creepy people intimidating the girls. While it may seem inviting to demonize the Haredim who do this, they are encouraged among themselves and the activity will continue, as long as they feel that people are indeed being intimidated. By taking offensive measures, it will make it clear that Orthodox Beit Shemesh residents are not at all intimidated and are becoming resolved to fight back. It is important that only Orthodox people take up this fight, or the Haredim will become more resolved that this is a war against chilonim or Yavanim or whatever. Do not accept aid from people whose aim it is to damage Judaism. They only help the Sikrikim.

Escalations:
Take photos of individuals and try to get names. Post pictures and names in public forums with Shegetz, baal z'roah, listim, min or any other epithet. Their power is in being anonymous hordes. do not play their game. Make them be individual criminals.

Follow them around as they come and go. Go into the Haredi neighborhood and yell for people to turn over the minim and apikorsim in their midst. Demonstrations should be frequent, brief, and video recorded. Slogans should center on questioning the lineage and halachic basis of the Haredim. This may not be as impressive in the papers, but the line Haredim will not want to support the radicals and you are likely to end the daily insults and incursions, and ultimately the invasion of the Haredim and the uprooting of Orthodox Jews from Beit Shemesh.

Apply cost to every offense. Go into the Haredi neighborhood and speak to the woman and children walking in the street. Do NOT spit on them or intimidate them, quite the opposite. Speak kindly to them and explain that the Jews of Beit Shemesh want peace with them. They will most likely run away quickly. However, when the Sikrikim see that frum Jews will come into their neighborhood, unafraid, and speak to the people there, their own families, they will feel invaded and they will focus on keeping the outsiders out, rather than attacking.

And make no mistake, they are coming to take Beit Shemesh and push out the other residents. And they want to do it throughout Israel. The ones who claim they only want peace need demands made of them, put up or shut up. They must disavow all of the insults and the philosophy of the Sikrikim or they are considered supporters of that gang.

The radicals are not adept at playing defense because Orthodox Jews never think in terms of offense. The time has come.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chumash question

An excellent question put to me.

The parsha says that the mitzrim and K'na'anim ran out of money. Then it says that the Mitzrim sold themselves to Paroah, the only supplier with any food to sell. How did the K'naanim weather the famine? They survived as we see them later. They were out of money to buy food and they had the famine. If they sold themselves, why does the parsha leave them out?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Beit Shemesh

Whether or not this town figured in the Chanukah time battles, it has become the epicenter of a new push by various members of the Haredi community to grab power for themselves. They are often described in the press as "Ultra-Orthodox", but this is a misnomer in my opinion. They feel no kinship with other Orthodox Jews, nor do they adhere to standards based on standard Jewish law. They have their own government, their own tribunals, their own ideas about religion which deviate from Orthodoxy widely. They use standards formed inside the group only. They are more correctly called "minim", sectarians.

There are many in the Haredi community who are Orthodox, and they are just as baffled as the rest of us about what the political forces in their communities are after, and they are just as embarrassed if not far more so, by behavior that is so foreign to what they are taught and what they live.

One such min law is the at the center of the Beit Shemesh battle. According to the Jews, there are standards of modesty in behavior and in dress. For women, this includes covering ones legs to the knee, ones arms to the elbow, and not dressing in an overly alluring fashion. This custom of modesty, though not strictly legal, is universally accepted throughout the Jewish world to differing degrees. In the late 1950's, Orthodox Jewish women shunned wearing pants and traditionally male clothing, since it was associated with the beginning feminist movement. Many Orthodox still adhere to this custom today, as an established norm. Also, one is expected to avoid contact with women in a flirtatious or alluring manner. All contact between men and women that might be construed as flirtatious or alluring is forbidden. For instance, most men do not shake hands with women, even in a social or business setting, as this has become the custom.

However, in the min religion of Haredi, many consider the customs of modesty to be laws of the strictest importance. While Jewish law proscribes, for instance, that a man should not walk behind a woman going upstairs (or as a stringency, even on an equal surface), min law says that it is forbidden in Jewish law to sit on a bus behind a woman, to display a photo with a woman in it, even a child, or to allow a woman into a public job of any kind. This min law caused the fist storms of the fight, attracting even the attention of world leaders, like US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton.

Now, one might rightly argue that she criticizes the Haredim, while passing on the Egyptian, Saudi, Afghan, Iraqi etc customs, where women are not only shunned, but do not even have a legal structure to protect them. In Israel, women have equal rights under the law, and the law enforcement must protect those rights, even within the insular communities.

However, it is common that self appointed enforcers ride buses through various Haredi neighborhoods, and force woman to comply with min law, such as not riding in front of a man. Now, granted, if they want to create a private bus line that adheres to Haredi law, and practice their religion freely, I have no objection. Women and men may choose their business, and the business may choose their clientele. However, when the bus line is public, there can be no justification. The Rosenblit case was handled correctly. She was asked by police if she volunteered to comply with the min rule, she did not care to, and the police then enforced the law allowing her to ride as she chose, and protecting her from other threats.

Another case was that of the Orit school, which teaches girls to practice Orthodox Judaism. The Haredi enforcers intimidated the staff and even the students on the basis that they did not adhere to min laws created by the Haredim. There is no reason that a Jewish school should not be allowed to practice Judaism rather than min law, so they haven't a basis to object to the school.

However, this is just the political process in Israel. That is until your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. The Haredim did not respect that limit, even intimidating and harassing small children. Until now, I was not aware that min law allowed this, but apparently they have established this challenge to Judaism in Beit Shemesh. We join the Jews who stand together to defend freedom of religion, the freedom to practice Judaism rather than min law, the very right on which Israel was founded.

UPDATE:
More cases:
An Israeli soldier was intimidated and forced to the back of the bus. There is evidence that this case was an organized provocation. I hope that Doron Matalon and anyone behind her understand that actions of this type do not help the cause. They only serve to drive more Orthodox to the Haredi side, and cause them to discount other cases of abuse.

An MK Tzipi Hotovely rode the front of a mehadrin bus and was insulted by an enforcer. She correctly remained in place without provoking or grandstanding. The difference in her case is that she is Orthodox and she did not seek to provoke an attack on herself that she could "cry" about.

In Beit Shemesh, it was reported that Haredi children harassed disabled Orthodox children in wheelchairs and one family claimed that they had been told to move out by "the rabbis of the community" because of "your daughter's dressing habits". The origin and veracity of the story, whether the letter actually came from Haredim in the community, or whether the harassment took place is not clear. I hope it has not descended to this, but the rabbis need to exert LEADERSHIP, if for no other reason, than to stop the PR disaster that is hangs like a fog over religious Jews everywhere. You are supposed to be extraordinary leaders, guardians of Torah, people who just KNOW deep things that we peons cannot understand with mere intellect. When will you start LEADING!!!!!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

More Chumash issues

Last week, we discussed Dishon and Dishan. We could also have discussed another Rashi comment of "I do not know what it teaches us". When G-d finished speaking, it says, "and Jacob built an altar, in the place that G-d had spoken to him." This latter verbiage is the same as the previous pasuk and is not present when Avraham met the same situation. For Rashi to say that he doesn;t know, it must be that there is an obvious interpretation, but that it does not agree with Rashi's p'shat in other respects. I did not yet find a good resolution for this one.

This week, there is another editorial mishap. To whom did the brothers sell Yosef? They sold him to the Yishmaelim for 20 silver coins. However, the people who pulled him from the pit were Midyanim, socharim (meaning, Midianite middlemen). Rashi implies that socharim means many different middelmen, separate from the Midianites. So it is clear that the Yishmaelites sold him to the Midianites, who then took him to market in Egypt for sale. However, later the pasuk says that he was sold to the Medanim, whose name is spelled similarly to the Midianites, but Medan and Midian were two separate descendents of Avraham in parshat Chayai Sarah. So the Midyanim sold him to the Medanim as implied by Rashi's comment "he was sold many times". However, the Gutnick Chumash among others, and the Medrash list only the Yishmaelim, the Midianim, the unspecified socharim and Potiphar. From where did the Medanim come? Of course, we can escape by saying that they are the among the socharim. However, why mention them by name? Did the Mesoretic scribes simply leave out a yud, at which point the pasukim would flow perfectly?

Medrash is bothered by the question, and answers that the Medanim merged with the Midianim at some point in history and they were the same tribe. OK, that is better than rocks for breakfast. It is even supported by the fact Chayai Sarah mentions the sons of Midian, but not the sons of Medan. Perhaps they merged.

As a side point, there seem to have been many people in the early Torah named Utz. I am not sure I have ever met anyone with that name, at least outside the potato chip industry. But it is a dare to anyone having a bris soon who is a rebellious teenager.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Thought on Gezaila

ט. כל החומד עבדו או אמתו או ביתו וכליו של חבירו או דבר שאפשר לו שיקנהו ממנו והכביר עליו ברעים והפציר בו עד שלקחו ממנו אף על פי שנתן לו דמים רבים הרי זה עובר [ה] בלא תעשה שנאמר לא תחמוד. ואין לוקין על לאו זה מפני שאין בו מעשה. ואינו עובר בלאו זה עד שיקח החפץ שחמד. כענין שנאמר לא תחמוד כסף וזהב עליהם ולקחת לך חימוד שיש בו מעשה:
י. כל המתאוה ביתו או אשתו וכליו של חבירו וכן כל כיוצא בהן משאר דברים שאפשר לו לקנותן ממנו. כיון שחשב בלבו היאך יקנה דבר זה ונפתה בלבו בדבר עבר בלא תעשה שנאמר לא תתאוה ואין תאוה אלא בלב בלבד:
יא. א התאוה מביאה לידי חימוד והחימוד מביא לידי גזל. שאם לא רצו הבעלים למכור אע"פ שהרבה להם בדמים והפציר ברעים יבא לידי גזל שנאמר וחמדו בתים וגזלו. ואם עמדו הבעלים בפניו להציל ממונם או מנעוהו מלגזול יבא לידי שפיכות דמים. צא ולמד ממעשה אחאב ונבות:
יב. הא למדת שהמתאוה עובר בלאו אחד והקונה דבר שהתאוה בהפצר שהפציר בבעלים או בבקשה מהן עובר בשני [ו] לאוין לכך נאמר לא תחמוד ולא תתאוה. ואם גזל עבר בשלשה לאוין:
He defines titaveh as desiring something that belongs to someone else. Tachmod means that he takes action and acquires it and forces the victim to sell it to him. Gezaila means that, since he won't sell it, he takes it from the victim. Then, he says that one is not guilty of bal tachmod unless he actually acquires the object through forcing the sale. Otherwise it is merely, bal titaveh. Then, he explains that if he desires the object, he is guilty for one issur. If he acquires it, he is guilty for two. If he commits gezel, he is guilty for three

Here is my problem. If he already acquired it through bal tachmod, and this is required to be guilty, then how did he then acquire it through gezaila? He already has it.

Here is my proposed answer. If he desires the object, he is guilty for one, titaveh. If he desires and acquires it, he is guilty for tachmod as well, thus two. If he desires it, and attempts to acquire it through tachmod, but he is unsuccessful, he is still only guilty for one, titaveh. However, when he then takes action to strong-arm the object away from the owner, he becomes guilty for tachmod, since he acquired the object through his action.  IOW the other person agreed to allow him to buy the object and perhaps put a down payment on  it and then he decides to take it without paying.  
thus he is guity for gezaila, since he actually committed gezaila. Thus, there are possible cases for one, two and three issurim

This also resolves another issue in Halacha 9. There the Rambam says that he does not get lashes, because there is no action. But he is not guilty unless he takes action. I believe that he means only that he ultimately acquires the object by forcing its sale. Even if it is the direct result of tachmod, and he is guilty for two, nonetheless, he is does not get lashes, because the victim gave it to him. If he takes action, then the he is guilty for three, and there are no lashes for the reason he describes earlier, that it is lav sh'netek l'aseh

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Vivid Dreams-Kabalah

The title links to an article on Chabad.org about dreams. It starts sanely enough and then drifts off into Kabalah. As many of you know, to my mind, what we call "Kabalah" today is largely a pastiche of traditional Jewish mystical thought with an equally large helping of non-Jewish superstition and magic, and a dash of unsourced utter nonsense on the side. Sadly, it can no longer be sorted, though Chasidic groups made a valiant effort in formulating Chasidut, emphasizing the parts that are beneficial to "avodah" while trying to guide people away from the nonsense.

Is it dangerous? Two words, Shabtai Tzvi. The modern version is based largely on one direction, that of Yitzchak Luria, the Ari, and his school. While he promoted a resurgence of Kabalah and the mystical side of Judaism, he also introduced new ideas that cannot be traced back beyond a century earlier. The rejoinder to this is that Kabalah existed in a hidden form, where only a few people passed down in a clandestine chain. To me, this breaks the whole Jewish model of generational transmission. The idea was that everyone saw at Mt. Sinai and that other religions were passed down by a single person, as with Christianity or Islam. This even spawned the circular Kuzari "proof", which we have already discussed. To have a major change in the religion that only a select few know is not Jewish, because in Judaism, even the king, prophets and saints are not above the law. However, if only an oligarchy know the "true" law, then no one can ever hold them accountable. Even Moses took pains to be seen by the people speaking with G-d, before he would be trusted to transmit the law.

To answer, vivid dreams are the same as any other dream. They reflect what we think about during the day, as he says in the Raisha of the article. Our minds simply prepare us to do something that our bodies are not yet ready to do. When our brains tell us something, we tend to believe it, just as we tend to believe our parents when we are children. If our brain sends us false signals, which we are used to interpreting one way, we are impressed that we have experienced "reality", even if it is weird. Stage magicians understand this. They tell you things and show you things normally interpreted one way, and then they change the field so that you are tricked about what you have reasoned will or can happen next. Usually, when shown the secret behind the trick, people are amazed at how easy it is. Stuxnet virus also works on the same idea. It tells the instruments in the control center false things that are normally interpreted as true by the trusted source.

Overly trusting our brains, any more than our eyes and ears, leads us to endangering ourselves based on hallucinations, or little voices. A vivid dream is no more than a vivid hallucination. If you put your old aunt in the home for believing it, it is not valid for you to believe either. Mental wards are full of people who follow the reality of their mind, when in everyone else's reality, their mind is what is broken.

Just because we receive a message from our minds, rather than from our outer senses, it may not be any more trustworthy. This brings a certain amount of discomfort and insecurity as we deal with the world around us, but it is a truth that we cannot deny. And this is sufficient for he that understands. The rest is passed down only to special students and only the chapter headings.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Even Rashi doesn't know

The verse says, "And Yitchak sent (shalach) Yaakov, and he went to Padan Aram to Lavan the son of Betuel the Arami, the brother of Rivka, the mother of Yaakov and Esav." On the last words, "mother of Yaakov and Esav" Rashi says "I do not know what it teaches us."

The implication is that telling us that Lavan is the brother of Rivka, a fact we already know, is obvious what it teaches, but that telling us another fact that we already know, contradicts what the obvious implication would be. In my mind, this clears it up.

Why did Yitzchak expect that Lavan would protect Yaakov, and get involved in frateranl broges with the dangerous Esav. Answer: because Yaakov was closest to Rivka and as she favored him, so would Lavan. Whereas Yitzchak favored Esav, and this was further from Lavan in terms of loyalty. This is somewhat confirmed by the next pasuk. "And Esav saw that Yitachak had blessed Yaakov and sent him away (shilach) to Padan Aram. Shalach means to send on a mission to something, whereas shilach means to send him away from here. (This is clear from Rashi's p'shat, that sending him away to escape and sending him to get married, were two different things in Esav's view.) So Esav interpreted the action primarily as Yitchak supporting Yaakov's escape, the rest being a pretense, whereas Yitchak understood it as sending him on a journey to get a wife. So Esav sought to counteract the pretense, rather than to thwart Yaakov's escape, since his father wanted it.

Howeer, in truth, Rivka would have wanted the escape more, so she was relying on Lavan's loyalty to her as her brother. Why then emphasize that Rivka is the mother of both of them? This would inspire Lavan to have the same loyalty to both and not to get involved. Even though Yaakov is mentioned first, nonetheless, this would emphasize that Lavan still would have no reason to completely side with Yaakov. Thus, this pasuk confuses pshat, rather than clarifying it, and we do not know what it meant to teach us.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Sons of Avraham Part 2

Well, after our failed vacation trip, we returned home to news that some of the "Occupy" movements had become violent, you know, those movements in every city that are directing anger at "bankers", i.e. Jewish bankers, i.e. Jews, who are all bankers. So, my family sat down to discuss possible scenarios to defend our home in case of attack.

Scenario one.

Suppose a couple of bachurim that we have never met before came to the door, and the "occupiers" chose that moment to riot. They surround the house and the bachurim are trapped inside. Now, I like to think out of the box, and so I came up with a really creative plan. My two daughters, who are both engaged BH, were home. So I suggested, in case they were home when the riot began, that we could offer them up to the angry mob to protect the bachurim inside. I could use my influence in town to sell the idea to the crowd and then they would spare us and the bachurim. My wife and family do not always appreciate my ideas, but I feel that their over-reaction to this idea was completely out of line. Both of my daughters also complained to their chasanim, but they tried to placate the girls by saying that I must be joking. Where is everyone's spirit of mesiras nefesh?

So that was a bust.

So, having failed to convince my wife on our adventure to Egypt, I decided to take my sons on a trip. The older one has always been a bit of a wild kid and likes to endanger others just for fun, so I will have him stay with the car while the younger one and I go exploring. We like the mountains. Then, I had this great idea. Let's see how my younger son, a really nice and obedient kid, reacts to my thinking out of the box. So, I suggest that we leave the older son with the car, while we go on a hike and have a personal barbecue up on one of the mountains. I brought picnic basket and we started up the slope. When we got to the top, he says to me, "I see you brought barbeque sauce, ketchup, mustard, and you even brought firewood and a knife. So why didn't we stop off at the kosher butcher and get some meat to roast?" I explained that the voices in my car had told me to barbecue him. At first, he was all into it. However, as I tied him down to slit his throat, he began to have reservations, but it was too late. He just gave me a look, you know, that "I'm so disappointed in you Dad, but do what you think is right" look. Just then, the voices from the car spoke to me again and said that really, tying him down was all that was required and I could now release him. I even saw a ram with its horns stuck in a tree, so voila, barbecue. We had a great time, but ever since, my son has been acting out in school and he keeps muttering strange things to himself. Then, they were going to have a class picnic, and the teacher says that my son freaked out and hid under his desk yelling "Take my brother. He's bigger, he has more lean meat on him and he's a jerk too!"

I tell you, raising kids is tough.